Scams

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
scams, service protection plan, washington

Companies:
comcast



Comcast Busted For Signing People Up For Services They Didn't Want, Never Asked For

from the pay-more-for-nothing dept

Earlier this year Washington State sued Comcast for routinely ripping off its customers. The original complaint (pdf) argued that Comcast violated Washington state’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA) by misrepresenting its "Service Protection Plan," which lets users pay a $5 per month additional fee to cover "all" service calls. But the investigation found that Comcast not only over-stated what the plan covered, but routinely signed customers up for the plan who never asked for it, resulting in an additional $73 million in subscription fees over the last five years for what the State AG called a "near-worthless" plan.

The original complaint found that Comcast reps repeatedly sold the plan as being "comprehensive," covering all service calls, including those related to inside wiring, customer-owned equipment connected to Comcast services and "on-site education about products." But when customers subscribed to the plan called up thinking they'd then get a break from Comcast on service charges, the company would routinely bill customers anyway for all manner of services and repairs that should have been covered under the plan.

Amusingly, last week while Comcast was busy celebrating the vote to kill net neutrality, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that his office would be amending and expanding its original complaint. According to investigators, the width and breadth of Comcast's protection plan scam went far deeper than investigators originally realized. After reviewing company interactions with subscribers, the AG found that "Comcast may have signed up more than half of all SPP subscribers without their consent," and in numerous instances charged customers for the SPP plan after telling them it was "free."

Ferguson's office claims they were "shocked" by the level of deception that occurred at Comcast:

"This new evidence makes clear that Comcast’s conduct is even more egregious than we first realized,” Ferguson said. “The extent of their deception is shocking, and I will hold them accountable for their treatment of Washington consumers."

If you've watched as Comcast gleans millions of dollars from unnecessary usage caps, extremely misleading fees (which it's also being sued over), or surcharges thanks to its monopoly over cable boxes, none of this should be remotely shocking. Being misleading is a rite of passage in the broadband sector, where captive customers, a lack of competition and blindly loyal state and federal regulators and lawmakers means accountability of any sort is frequently in short supply (though this is precisely the sort of stuff many falsely believe "the market" will magically take care of on its own accord).

And it's all about to get much worse. As we've well established, the Trump administration is gutting most meaningful FTC and FCC oversight of uncompetitive duopolies companies like Comcast. Worse, Comcast and Verizon have successfully lobbied the FCC to block any states that try to hold these ISPs accountable on the net neutrality, privacy, or errant billing fronts. All while the already flimsy competition Comcast faces in many of its markets weakens further thanks to telcos being unwilling to upgrade their networks. In other words, if you thought Comcast's behavior was bad in the past, you likely haven't seen anything yet.


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 5:42am

    Yep, sounds like the type of company that can self-regulate and adhere to net neutrality principles and general good practices towards its consumers alright. Ajit Pai that little smart devil!

    /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2017 @ 7:20am

      Re:

      Nice intellectually dishonest and bankrupt logic you got there. We can clearly see that you are intentionally blaming free-market ideas yet again for the failure of regulatory agency.

      No intelligent person would expect a business to... as you put it "self-regulate" in a fashion that "fits your agenda driven drivel". You clearly live in a fantasy where you expect business to cater to your wants and desires as if people should just be good in a fashion you agree with.

      You constantly attack the wrong ideas and people for things and either ignorantly or intentionally continue to advance factually incorrect information.

      In a free-market economy the "regulating" would come from competing business trying to offer superior products that consumers would desire more... NOT from internal "self-regulation" as you so ignorantly or dishonestly put it. Competitor based regulation is literally the regulatory model that free-market is based around and you wasted no time in misrepresenting that fact by showing your ignorance on the subject.

      You first advocate for the destruction of free-market through regulatory agency and then proceed to blame free-market for its own failings.

      Ajit Pai is not smart... the problem is that you are just that DUMB!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 7:28am

        Re: Re:

        In a free-market economy, the market would trend towards one company instead of many. The best company “wins”, after all. A monopoly would be impossible to avoid as smaller companies fall at the feet of the “market winner”. Yes, a mom-and-pop store might be able to survive by breaking even every month thanks to enough loyal customers, but it is far from being a real “marketplace challenge” to the behemoth that is Wal-Mart.

        The market must be regulated to ensure a balance between what is best for business and what is best for the consumer. For that to happen, we need agencies that can do their jobs without being hamstrung by bought-off legislators and revolving-door industry cronies.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2017 @ 10:20am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Your argument is bankrupt and you are not even intelligent enough to reason why.

          We currently have monopolies, where are your regulations? I do not see them to the rescue do you? We have had nearly a century of the FCC and these monopolies still abound without cessation.

          The industry has been in regulatory capture for some time, as you have been warned.


          "The market must be regulated to ensure a balance between what is best for business and what is best for the consumer. For that to happen, we need agencies that can do their jobs without being hamstrung by bought-off legislators and revolving-door industry cronies."

          You simply cannot have one without the other. How is it that you can read history and not understand this? O wait...

          History teaches us that people do not learn from history. Sir you are perpetrator of your own victim-hood. You baited the bear and still have the audacity to decry your own misfortune. How sad it must be to have been tricked into robbing yourself for your own illusion of "security".

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Mike Masnick (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 10:53am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Your argument is bankrupt and you are not even intelligent enough to reason why.

            This is why I have a problem with you and the way you argue. I agree that Stephen's argument is wrong in this instance, but it is hardly bankrupt, and he's shown that he's quite intelligent and thoughtful over the years.

            Instead of being a TOTAL FUCKING ASSHOLE every time you respond to someone, why not take a second and realize that maybe they have a point.

            Stephen's initial point is sound: absent anything else, a market can lead to monopolization, especially when it comes to situations where there's a winner-takes-all scenario. That can be anything where competition is difficult/expensive to start up or where the incumbent can effectively block competition.

            Now there is a valid counterargument, that I think you're making (though terribly), which is that Stephen's hypothesis wouldn't apply if there were real competition, and the ability for new entrants to enter the market and attack the incumbent. Stephen's implicit premise is that that's not the case here. Your implicit premise is that it is -- and that the only thing blocking competition is regulatory.

            So if we set up that framework, we can then challenge those assumptions and see which one is right. In many, many cases, I think your assumptions are probably correct: market dominance can lead to new entrants and competition, and that keeps bad behavior by incumbents in check. But there are some markets where that might not apply. And situations where you have a natural monopoly, which may include broadband, certainly appear to be one.

            See? It's possible to discuss these things on the merits without being an asshole. Even though I agree with you that a free market does not normally lead to a monopoly, I am also willing to concede that in some cases it does, and that Stephen has a point in discussing those cases.

            On top of that, you immediately jumping to being a condescending insulting asshole makes your argument look weak, even when you have a valid point. Maybe, when you grow up, you'll learn this.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 7:29am

        Re: Re:

        lol, right, right, free market is god, commuunism is bad, didn't read the article, have no education on history but keep ranting on what you don't know etc etc.. We know, we know.


        Go take your psychiatric medicine now will you?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2017 @ 10:27am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I did not say free market is god?

          that is just your weak and feeble attempt to erect a straw-man.

          I am just saying that your relentless assault on free-market is what directly lead to this.

          free-market, communism, monarchy, really any ism you can think of all would succeed "IF" the person overseeing them were truly benevolent. The problem is finding a benevolent person who is given power over others and would not abuse it.

          You are eternally suckered by politicians that will promise you anything and you still feast upon their lies after they have abused you!

          Fool me one, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

          You have been fooled so many times it is clear you no longer have any shame.

          If you were in Pai's seat, you would be as corrupt as he because the system is configured to only allow the corrupt to rise. You have been fed your own waste and you dance in glee as you consume it!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Ninja (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 11:48am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            lmao

            "I am just saying that your relentless assault on free-market is what directly lead to this."

            Read what Mike replied to your other deranged comment directed towards Stephen. I'd say your relentless dementia on a free-market utopia is amusing and wouldn't lead to anything anyway. My relentless questioning over what's clearly a regulatory capture you mean? On an issue that will not solve itself without proper regulation due to the simple fact that this area is one shiny example where free-market *tends to fail* and clearly failed? Yeah, right.

            "all would succeed "IF" the person overseeing them were truly benevolent"

            We do agree that human nature prevents most systems from being implemented in their pure glory then. But it seems we disagree on the benevolent savior. I do think politics and democracy are the way towards a more balanced world. But we won't have that without some heads rolling, perhaps not in the figurative sense only. I do hope I'm wrong though but history says I'm not.

            "If you were in Pai's seat, you would be as corrupt as he because the system is configured to only allow the corrupt to rise. You have been fed your own waste and you dance in glee as you consume it!"

            Funny, Wheeler failed to be corrupted then. At the very least he listened to the people and took mostly sensible and pro-consumer positions. And he didn't have to create DoS attacks out of thin air or resort to dead people supporting his views to get it trough. Of course, this will be tested in courts but I'm quite confident Pai is in for a sound defeat.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2017 @ 12:43pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Jesus man stay down. You’ve got 100 percent total body burns and you’re still out there acting like you have a real arguement. It’s abmirable for its sheer pigheadness, but damn, you got fucking owned. Suck it up, go to the library, and learn to fight another day.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2017 @ 8:33am

        Re: Re:

        Not sure from where you grabbed on to the free market meme as the post to which you replied made no mention of it at all, perhaps it is some sort of fixation you have - perhaps you should have that looked at.

        fyi, there is no such thing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2017 @ 9:08am

        Re: Re:

        Having been described as the lowest form of humor, I believed most people understood sarcasm. That's why it always blows my mind when I discover how many people just don't get it. They guy even included the /s sarcasm mark!

        Wow.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2017 @ 10:06am

          Re: Re: Re:

          It appears that you are the one that failed to understand it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2017 @ 11:13am

        Re: Re:

        "You first advocate for the destruction of free-market through regulatory agency and then proceed to blame free-market for its own failings."

        how do you say that with a straight face? what a twat you are

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    MyNameHere (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 6:45am

    Okay, let's play "truth busters" here.

    $73 million (estimated) at $5 a month means 14,600,000 "months" charged over 5 years, so an average of 1,216,666 months per year, or about 102,000 customers each month over that 5 year period.

    According to 2016 numbers, Comcast has circa 23 million cable and a similar number of internet customers (with plenty of overlap) and 11 million phone customers. Allowing for massive overlap between the three, you are still looking at least 25 million unique customers.

    So if Comcast "routinely signed customers up" for this program, then they are as bad at doing that as anything else, as they only got around to signing up 0.4% of their customer base.

    Now, let's make it clear (before the trolls dive in): Stuffing is bad, naughty, and they should be forced to refund the customers at least double what they took. However, for what is being pushed as a widespread fraud... Comcast truly sucked at being criminal!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 6:48am

      Re:

      Stuffing is bad, naughty, and they should be forced to refund the customers at least double what they took.

      Double is barely anything. Quadruple should be the bare minimum, and they should be made to pay even more than that if possible.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Richard O, 27 Dec 2017 @ 7:10am

      Re:

      I've not read the complaint. However are these estimated 102,000 customers only in Washington state? If you want to express this as a percentage, you'd need to only use subscriber numbers from that state.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2017 @ 7:11am

      Re:

      Why do you assume that the numbers are related to all Comcast customers, rather than just those in the State of Washington, where the AG has authority?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        I.T. Guy, 27 Dec 2017 @ 12:06pm

        Re: Re:

        Because skewing the numbers makes his whaaaarghument that much... "better?"

        "$73 million in subscription fees over the last five years for what the State AG called a "near-worthless" plan."
        That is just his state, from the data he had.


        "they only got around to signing up 0.4% of their customer base." and extracted an additional 73 million. 14 mil a year from just this one scam in one state.

        "before the trolls dive in" Takes one to know one?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 7:32am

      Re:

      Along with what has been pointed out already, and even if you are right (you aren't), it's still 0.4% too many. And it would keep happening if not under scrutiny.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        MyNameHere (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 8:00am

        Re: Re:

        As I said, stuffing of any sort of bad, bad, bad... there is nothing that can be said to make it good or acceptable.

        However, this is proof of course that there is scrutiny of these companies, and it's not from the FCC. This has been going on while Wheeler fiddled. You have to think that the FCC saw some complaints on the issue.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Ninja (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 8:52am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Sure, because such behavior is forbidden under current regulatory environment and it *still happens*. Notice that even with scrutiny it still happens in the thousands?

          It's not ok. Percentages are misleading. Very low values can still mean thousands being defrauded and millions of extra, illegally acquired money to the company. The wonders of huge mono/duopolies!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2017 @ 4:27pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Classic Whatever for you. Download a song? Call the fucking army! Copyright enforcement wastes money in expenditures? Gee, that's just small potatoes when you look at the global government, so why the hell should anyone care?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Tim Illingworth, 27 Dec 2017 @ 7:34am

      Re:

      I would have thought that the $73mil was in Washington State only, not USA-wide, since this is a state lawsuit.

      Population of WA is about 7mil, so say 700,000 Comcast accounts, of which 100,000 were wrongly charged, or about 15% - still not good.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      niiwe (profile), 29 Dec 2017 @ 9:23pm

      Re:

      $73M was the cost for Washington State customers, so the relevant number for the amount of internet customers, is "number of Comcast customers in Washington state".
      This state has less than 7.5M people, so there can't have been 25M Comcast customers being swindled. (Those 11M+23M must have been the national customer base.)

      I don't know if Comcast is more or less popular in WA than elsewhere, but if (for a first approximation), they are as popular in WA as elsewhere (25M out of 320M), we'd get less than 600,000 Comcast customers in WA.

      In other words, about 1/6 of the WA Comcast customers got hit by this particular fee, assuming that each one payed this fee every single month for the entire 5 year period.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 27 Dec 2017 @ 6:57am

    "Ferguson's office claims they were "shocked" by the level of deception that occurred at Comcast"

    Fergurson needs to visit TD... he wouldn't be as surprised. Just another Wednesday for Cc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 6:31pm

      Re:

      "For you, the day Comcast was discovered to have engaged in widespread deception, raking in millions of dollars by signing people up for a service that didn't do what it claimed to do, in many cases without their consent, was a shocking, deeply surprising day. For Comcast, it was tuesday."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 7:27am

    When a dog licks its balls, it's just being a dog. When Comcast defrauds customers on a grand scale, it's just being Comcast.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2017 @ 7:36am

    Any company that uses commissioned salesmen in telemarketing campaigns should expect that a high percentage of them will end up "earning" their commissions through less than honest means. That's not to blame it completely on the salesmens' greed, as they may be under tremendous pressure by their bosses to meet sales targets or get fired.

    Wasn't there a term coined for this very type of telemarketer abuse, once commonly known as "slamming"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      carlb, 27 Dec 2017 @ 3:17pm

      Re: slamming?

      No, "slamming" is something specific - namely switching a client's existing local or long-distance service to another carrier without their consent.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2017 @ 1:15pm

    They always was a Rip off

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 27 Dec 2017 @ 3:14pm

    Well, yeah.

    According to investigators, the width and breadth of Comcast's protection plan scam went far deeper than investigators originally realized. After reviewing company interactions with subscribers, the AG found that "Comcast may have signed up more than half of all SPP subscribers without their consent," and in numerous instances charged customers for the SPP plan after telling them it was "free."

    Well, according to latest news, Comcast will celebrate the death of Net Neutrality by handing select employees $1000. This news only makes sense if those employees become more of an asset with Net Neutrality gone.

    Salesmen experienced at selling previously clearly fraudulent packages would be particularly beneficial to Comcast now that Net Neutrality is gone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NeghVar (profile), 27 Dec 2017 @ 4:29pm

    Criminal charges

    They need to start filing criminal charges for these acts. If the fine is 25 million, the legal fees are 15 million, yet they are getting 73 million from the acts, what motive is there for them to stop? The punishments need to be either criminal or fine exceeding what they gained from the fraudulent acts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John85851 (profile), 28 Dec 2017 @ 10:19am

      Re: Criminal charges

      You beat me to it. :)

      If the fines/ punishment are far less than the profit they made, they'll treat it as a cost of doing business and there's no real reason for them to stop doing it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 28 Dec 2017 @ 6:53am

    And it's not unreasonable to speculate that Comcast or one of its ilk likewise signed peoples' names onto a NN

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 28 Dec 2017 @ 10:26am

    Too big to fail

    Another issue is whether companies like Comcast have realized that they're "too big to fail" because of their monopoly position, so they simply don't care about screwing customers.
    After all, what's the government going to do, kick them out of the state and leave millions of people without cable and Internet access?
    And what happens if a state AG does kick Comcast out of the state? People won't thank the AG for getting rid of a bad company- they'll yell and scream about how the AG turned off their cable TV.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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